I always struggle with what to do to commemorate Veterans Day. I’ve never understood the whole “big sale” concept as a fitting way to honor military veterans, but I often feel anger and frustration when I attend the more traditional Veterans Day events. As a society, we like veterans neatly wrapped up in faded photographs (in the case of those who have died) or in crisp, but somehow archaic uniforms. We want to see them at parades and speeches and the openings of war memorials. We do not like to see them in mugshots or sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. Yet a disproportionate number of veterans become homeless or end up in prison.
This dilemma returns to me today, because I just received the final full cover for Lie Lay Lain. I had seen the front cover, but the back cover came as a surprise to me. There in shadow is the image of a paramedic. All of which has what to do with Veterans Day?
Beyond my two point of view characters, Jennifer and Olivia, the third main character of the book is Rindell James, a paramedic and a Marine Corps veteran. The character developed out of me asking the question we all ought to ask ourselves: what becomes of our veterans?
In Lie Lay Lain, Rindell is still carrying the baggage of two tours of duty in Iraq, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a drug addiction that was born out of a combat injury. Throughout much of the book he is just a few missteps away from homelessness or tumbling back into drug use. These elements of his character are not things I cherry picked or over-dramatized to heighten tension in the novel. They are part of the everyday lives of many veterans. You don’t have to go far or look hard to find veterans who are suffering from combat injuries or PTSD, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.
Combat injuries can lead to lifelong pain and in the pursuit of relief, many veterans become addicted to a variety of drugs. The psychological wounds of combat can also lead to self-medication with legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcohol. Combine pain, stress, addiction, and emotional troubles, and it’s not surprising that veterans disproportionately become homeless, unemployed, or incarcerated.
What is surprising is America’s somewhat cavalier attitude toward the lifelong fallout of going to war. People seem eager to thank veterans for their service, and they occasionally want to buy dinner for them, or contribute to adapting a home for a disabled vet. We do not, however, seem to have a united front on the absolute necessity of providing all veterans with the services necessary to keep them healthy and contributing members of our society.
Instead of thinking about veterans on one special day a year, we need to think about them more often, and more openly discuss the obstacles they face. We can do this by being more involved with local veterans groups, by being informed about veterans issues, or by communicating to our elected officials that veterans are important to us.